Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Always Install New Software in Advanced Mode

Huh?  What is he saying?  What is this another computer rant?


I spent some time over the last week helping out an executive client in their home.  This person got "stuck" doing something and went to restore what they did from a backup copy and ended up restoring the entire system. 

A lot of the terminology with computers is very confusing.  It was easy to do, especially if you are a home user or what they call "SOHO" - Small Office Home Office user.  You end up doing your own Tech Support and most of the time you will get it right.  Sometimes you slip and click the wrong button.  I've done it.  Big Oops, you recover and move on.

The deal with all that was that my client ended up with a computer that had a shiny new copy of Windows XP layered over his old data with none of those programs that were needed to do the work that you have a PC in the first place. 

I was called in because the keyboard was not recognized, of all things.  It wasn't a fancy keyboard, it was a step above the $10 specials you see stacked in the back of a computer store.  It had a couple buttons on the top that you could use to control your playback of CD or other multimedia and XP got confused.  I got that fixed in about a minute, so we took the time to reinstall all the things that were needed.

What caught me was something that I always blew past.  When you install software these days, almost everything comes with spyware - Browser Toolbars.   Toolbars are something that if I spot when I sit at someone else's PC, I know that I am sitting at a machine that is being used by someone who is not at an expert level of knowledge.  Not everyone needs that level of knowledge, they can always "Call A Friend" and you can puzzle it out together. 

But NOBODY needs a toolbar to do a search.  What a toolbar does on a browser is report home to the company that made it what you are doing within a browser.  If you do a search, it is there to help... itself to what you just typed in.  It sits there consuming resources and slows down what you are doing.  A client out of town had six of these monstrosities loaded and asked why it was always slow to surf.  They were going to buy a new laptop and were really not happy about it.  15 minutes later crisis was averted.  Nice fast browsing again... then I removed Skype that they didn't use and much faster.

Mind you, I use Skype for internet phone calls and once started a business that was splattered over the Eastern Seaboard of the US with a fascinating friend using Skype for teleconferencing.  With Skype doing the backbone of our business and open source software we created a very professional business presentation.  Then Bush's Great Depression hit and the company folded, but that is another story...

Computers come loaded with a lot of programs that really aren't needed.  They are commonly called "Crapware" and the worst are those browser toolbars.  If you need to search, in Internet Explorer, you can do it in the address bar up top or the little bar to the right of that.  You can configure the default search provider to be who ever you want, but for most "Bing" or "Google" are great.  Just type in a search string and IE will do it for you.

Firefox is the same, just click into that little box up top next to the upper right corner with the little icon for your default searcher and you're good to go.

Type it in and hit enter.  See?  It works.

You just don't need those toolbars.

So as you go to install your next piece of software, select either "Advanced" or "Custom".  For the most part, you will just click through each page saying "Next".  Eventually you'll find that they want to add a friendly toolbar and if you click next there, you will end up with one of the little parasites.   Click that check box first to say you do NOT want it, and then you can click next. 

The idea is that the machine you are installing software on is *your* machine, not owned by the search providers.  It isn't the people's that you went to to download that neat little game or MP3 player or "whatsit".  Installing software in advanced mode gives you the opportunity to take a little bit of control back from the nasties out there. 

There are a lot of programs out there that I run on a daily basis.  All of what I do is on something I downloaded for free and is considered "Free Or Open Source".  They even call that "FOSS".  A lot of that software is completely free of ads and runs under something that says it will be free forever - that's called the GNU license. I consider GNU a mark of a well written program and I'll take a chance on that immediately.  Once in a while you'll run across someone who adds in advertising or a tool bar and I've just ranted on how to get around that, advanced mode install.   If not you may wonder why you have a new stripe in your browser or why things look different.

Take your time.  We're here to help.  Someone is ... if not me, someone is.  That 12 year old kid down the block who is good with games and wears tape on their glasses might be a good one to ask too ... if you can get them out of Mom's Basement!

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